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Reviews

STANDUP SHAKESPEARE

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The title is misleading, as it gives the impression you're stumbling into codpiece comedy. This is more a word cabaret. Kenneth Welsh has reconfigured Shakespearean text into patter and musical numbers appropriate to a supper-club setting, a convention that never gets much past the novelty aspect. The music, by Ray Leslee—performed by the trio of David Manning (piano), Andrea Gaspar (violin), and Frank Moreno (bass)—is delightful, covering a range of styles but always having an underlying jazz sensibility. Manning as musical director nicely integrates the musicians into the piece and displays an appealing sense of humor.

Mary Jo Mecca and Peyce Byron are the lead singers, and each is possessed of a fine, strong voice. Mecca is an especially luscious creature, poured into her subtly bespangled costume (Ellen Pittman Stockbridge) and evoking the air of a woman who knows things. Where she has a voice that hints at teeth, Byron's is a supple, silky instrument that pairs beautifully. Emcee duties are discharged by Armin Shimerman (alternating with Gregory Itzin) as the Fool, and the featured role of Heckler is played with a pugilistic sort of humor by Mark Povinelli (alternating with John Kassir).

What separates the audience is how long you can endure listening to the distinctive meter of Shakespeare being shoehorned into something trying to sound like popular standards. Say what you will, the man is no Cole Porter. The music always sounds "like something," often something that would be lovely at a high-end garden party, but it's constantly being held hostage by the less-than-catchy rhythms of the text. Remember when "What a Piece of Work Is Man" popped up in Hair and made you feel smart for knowing its provenance but, really, one song like that was enough? Well, this is 90 solid minutes of that. The patter is even more forced, as snippets are cobbled together to sound like saucy banter (this is, alas, another show that chooses to overplay the innuendo).

When "Farewell, I must needs be gone" is how we get coffee and "What ho" is how we answer the phone, we feel like bright young theatre majors again. When the text fragment is familiar, it's even a tad disconcerting when it's not followed by the next well-known line. Casey Biggs makes it look good, although the visual ease seems at odds with the stylized chatter. There is a great deal of talent being applied to an end I'm not even sure is possible. But if you name your dogs after characters in the tragedies and your cats after those in the comedies and have at least one Bard-embossed garment and/or book bag, I beg thee attend, and rebuke this ignorant ink stain at your leisure.

"Standup Shakespeare," presented by and at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles. Wed.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Oct. 26-Dec. 22. $22.50-27. (310) 477-2055.

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